Chiefs Defeat Chargers Behind a Generational Talent... at Kicker

Taylor Witt

The Kansas City Chiefs have an embarrassment of riches on their 53-man roster. You would expect that from the defending Super Bowl champions. Football's best quarterback, Patrick Mahomes, joins football's fastest wide receiver, Tyreek Hill, football's most accomplished and consistent tight end, Travis Kelce, football's most reliable right tackle, Mitchell Schwartz, and dominant defenders like defensive tackle Chris Jones and safety Tyrann Mathieu. 

One position that often gets overlooked in football analysis but can prove absolutely crucial in close games is the kicker. After Sunday's 23-20 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, it's apparent that the Chiefs have another name to add to their long list of superstars: Harrison Butker.

Butker, an addition from the Carolina Panthers' practice squad in September 2017, has quickly established himself as one of the game's best placekickers. Among the 52 kickers since the start of 2017 with 10 or more attempts, Butker is fifth in accuracy (89.7%) and tied for first in field goals made (105). In the entire history of the NFL, only Justin Tucker's career 90.9% accuracy beats Butker's career percentage of 89.7%.

Where Butker really showed off on Sunday was his power. The Chargers had taken a 17-6 lead late in the third quarter when a sack dropped the Chiefs back to 3rd-and-25. A 10-yard pass to rookie RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire got the Chiefs to the Los Angeles 40-yard line, and out trotted Harrison Butker to attempt a career-long 58-yard field goal in what would prove to only be the appetizer for his performance.

He drilled it, as everyone has gotten accustomed to, to cut the Chiefs' deficit to eight. After typical Mahomes heroics tied the game at 17, the Chargers marched down the field and took a three-point lead with 2:27 left on the clock. After a couple of untimely penalties and a 3rd-and-20 conversion via another remarkable Mahomes scramble, Butker walked out on the field to send the game to overtime with a 30-yard chip shot for his second big kick of the day.

The Chargers won the coin toss to start the extra period but inexplicably punted on 4th-and-1 after having ample success against a banged-up Kansas City defense all afternoon. The Chiefs got the ball back needing just a field goal to win, and after moving the ball down to the Los Angeles 35-yard line they faced their own 4th-and-1 scenario. Butker trotted out for the 53-yard attempt and calmly drilled it, but Chiefs guard Nick Allegretti was called for a false start. Head coach Andy Reid said he never hesitated to give Butker the same shot from 58 yards, and indeed, Butker was up to the task as the next kick sailed through the uprights.

But as is often frustratingly the case in football games, the Chargers called a timeout before the snap to make Butker think about the kick a little longer, so his second kick didn't count either. His third kick, the one that will live on in the box score, was as beautiful as the first two and gave the Chiefs a hard-fought 23-20 victory.

Butker's big leg entered the history books for several reasons. First, his kick tied the team record held by Nick Lowery for longest in franchise history. But where Lowery's two 58-yard field goals came in a 15-point loss and a 16-point win, the Chiefs needed every yard in Butker's two kicks to get the victory. 

Second, Butker became only the second kicker in NFL history to drill two kicks of 58+ yards in a single game, joining 2012 St. Louis Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein, who hit a 58-yard and a 60-yard kick in a 19-13 victory where Zuerlein's two kicks came in the first and third quarters. Impressive, but not an overtime winner. 

Third, Butker became just the 14th kicker in NFL history to have two career kicks made from 58+ yards. Only six kickers have had more than two such kicks, with long-bomber Matt Prater leading the way with six makes. Butker accomplished something even the great Justin Tucker (1-for-6 on attempts from 58+) has never done. Great kickers like Jason Elam, David Akers, Mason Crosby, Stephen Hauschka, Wil Lutz, Jay Feeley, and Robbie Gould have all only hit one kick from 58 yards or more, with that group going a combined 8-for-32 on those attempts.

Finally, Butker's 58-yard kick is only the third game-winning kick in overtime of 50+ yards in NFL history. In 2011, in the thin air of Mile High Stadium in Denver, Matt Prater hit a 59-yard field goal to send a game against the Chicago Bears to overtime and followed that up with a 51-yarder to win the game. In 2018, Tampa Bay Buccaneers kicker Chandler Catanzaro bombed the overtime record 59-yard game-winner against the Cleveland Browns. 

Butker's kick was the second-longest in overtime history, but the way he has been kicking throughout his whole career, going a remarkable 5-for-5 on kicks of 54+ yards, you get the feeling it would have been good from just about anywhere in the stadium. He might not be the generational talent fans think of on the Chiefs roster, but he absolutely belongs in the conversation.

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